Wednesday, December 5, 2012

This They Believed: A Brief History of Doctrine in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church

Irby, Joe Ben. This They Believed: A Brief History of Doctrine in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Memphis: Cumberland Presbyterian Resource Center, 1997.

It seems appropriate, as I move into reference sources about various denominational traditions, that I include at least one from the Cumberland Presbyterian Tradition, with which my employer, Memphis Theological Seminary is affiliated. I can say with pride that Joe Ben Irby (1915-2007) made use of materials from the MTS Library when producing this excellent work. Dr. Irby was still writing actively at the age of 88 when I began my work here, and I miss his weekly visits to our library.

The subtitle of this book is somewhat of a misnomer in that Cumberland Presbyterian Doctrine is not presented chronologically here. However, Dr. Irby does draw from the full breadth of Cumberland doctrinal history. The contents are presented topically, along major areas of Christian doctrine such as the "The Scriptures," "God," "The Human Being," "The Person of Christ," "Salvation," "The Church," "Ministry," and a few others. Some divisions are distinctly reformed in character, such as "The Confessions" and "Predestination." One, "A Medium Theology" is distinctly Cumberland Presbyterian in nature. In each of these chapter divisions, Dr. Irby provides quotes from the major Cumberland confessions and major theologians about the doctrinal topic at hand. The theologians range from the founders of the Cumberland Presbyterian movement in the early 19th century, such as Finis Ewing and Richard Beard, to writers who are still living, such as Virgil Todd and Clinton Buck.

In this way, Dr. Irby has created a work that remains close to primary sources, providing relevant quotes, that also accounts for the full range of Cumberland Presbyterian doctrine. Dr. Irby's ethos is that of a knowledgeable, impartial, and unobtrusive guide to Cumberland Presbyterian sources and beliefs. His writing is clear and readable if one is familiar with basic theological terminology, or if one has a source such as McKim's Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms handy. This They Believed can provide enjoyable browsing or a useful research tool for anyone curious about the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination. This work is still available from numerous used book sources or from the Cumberland Presbyterian Resource Center.



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